Do we need a ‘vaccine’ for Change Fatigue?

Our employees’ ability to absorb change is dropping precisely at the time we need to develop, change and grow our organisations in the face of some pretty stiff headwinds. Change fatigue manifests in a number of ways. In extreme cases it presents as debilitating behaviours such as mental strain, burnout and aggressive challenging. In more common forms it presents as frustration, or worse apathy and passive resistance, resulting in lower employee engagement and productivity.

Recent Gartner research of over 4k employees across different levels and geographies in the US found that two differentiators enable employees to better absorb change:

  • Trust: The extent to which employees believe that key stakeholders, leaders, managers, co-workers and HR, have their interests in mind, and do what they have promised to do. Employees who report high-trust have an average capacity for change that is 2.6 times greater than those with low trust.
  • Team cohesion: The extent to which teams share a sense of belonging and connection, along with commitment to, and accountability for, a common goal. Employees with strong team cohesion have a capacity for change 1.8 times greater than the capacity of those with low team cohesion. 

We need a ‘vaccine’ for organisations that puts the focus on how your employees actually experience change.  By thinking about the desired employee experience first, leaders can work backward to identify the specific change actions that are needed to create that experience.

The ‘vaccine’ will work by developing Change Leaders that have the skills and techniques needed to empower different levels of managers and teams to shape the employee change experience in their areas. Empowering leaders to shape the change experience, builds greater cohesion and trust among the leadership cadre and will support a tailored approach and delivery of that desired employee change experience.

Preventing Change Fatigue starts with everyday change. It’s the small changes in leadership behaviours and actions that matter!

It’s tempting to think that the high volume of large scale change is what causes fatigue. For example, many would expect the recent pandemic, large-scale organizational transformation work, or planned mergers and acquisitions, to be the primary cause of change fatigue.

But research measuring volume, exertion and disruption, studied the change load that different types of change exert on employees. It concluded that day-to-day changes, such as moving to a new manager, shifting an embedded routine, changing team members, or even moving a location within a work-area can be far more impactful on change fatigue levels.

Change leaders therefore need to think carefully where they invest time, attention and energy to manage change. The primary cause of frustration may not be at the corporate level of change, it is far more likely to be embedded in the local change landscape.

Therefore the prevention and cure vaccination process has to start in the leadership cadre. Skilled Change Leaders are needed that can engage with their people explaining why change is needed and can act as ‘Playmakers’ co-creating the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ with their teams.

Nothing exacerbates change fatigue more than having change done to you!

This means Purpose, explaining why you are doing what you are doing, and Vision, describing what success looks like, (expressed as value outcomes for the organisation and the employees), need to be crystal clear. It is no surprise to us that the work that goes into explaining change at the top of an organisation gets distorted, diffused and diluted as the change message cascades down through the organisation. When it lands locally the detail of how it affects the local teams is often missing and as a result, the messaging is not suitably tailored to match the audience’s needs.

Our Change Leader developmentapproach is a co-curated with our clients around a series of topic themed tutorials exploring aspects of change fatigue including; trust; wellbeing and psychological safety.  They are offered as short (c45’) ‘Lunch and Learn’ sessions for leaders who want to explore and tackle this topic in more detail.

Our aim is to help your leaders acquire the skills they need to tackle the change fatigue challenge as it presents in their area and make a positive impact on the teams under their stewardship. The value outcome will be a set of personal action plans for each leader that participates, designed to nudge the local culture in the desired direction and tackle the change fatigue symptoms head on. Interested? Why not give us a call and we can start a conversation.